Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, Te Pāti Māori co-leader, talking to Moana Maniapoto on Te Ao with Moana.

Moana Maniapoto has been talking to party leaders in the lead-up to the election on October 14. Recently, she sat down with Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngārewa-Packer in her hometown of Hawera. Debbie is running for Te Tai Hauāuru electorate. She came into parliament in 2020, as a party list MP, after Rawiri Waititi, her co-leader, won Waiariki off Labour. This is an edited version of their kōrero for Te Ao with Moana, on Whakaata Māori.


Moana: Kia ora, Deb. How are the Te Pāti Maori billboards going?

Debbie: Well, they look beautiful. Some aren’t in place yet. And there’s been an anti-Māori sport around our billboards. It’s worse in Tāmaki Makaurau than here in Wellington. But yeah, they’re getting a bit of an anti-Māori beating again this time.

What does your slogan mean?

“Aotearoa Hou?” It means hope and future, peace and dignity. It means that we are an aspirational, intergenerational movement.

Is that for everybody?

Absolutely. Well, if you look at Te Tiriti, it’s for everybody. And, if you look at the way we manaaki, it’s for everybody. So, absolutely, it’s inclusive.

I saw a message recently which described Te Pāti Māori as extremist and divisive. How do you respond to that?

We’ve got a small cohort who are scared of what tangata whenua represent, and what rebalancing our world represents. This is, sadly, the fear-mongering and race-baiting that we’ve been responding to, but try not to get distracted by.

It’s why we’ve affirmed what we stand for and why it’s important that an Aotearoa Hou vision is given, not just to deflect the negativity, but also to encourage positive, aspirational politicking that brings along all cultures and all ages. You know, 70 percent of our population is under 40, and we’ve got to make sure we stay connected with them.

I heard members of the National Party recently group Labour, the Greens, Te Pāti Māori, Harry Tam, and the Mongrel Mob together. So how do you respond to that?

I’ve got whānau across all spheres of life, and thankfully all those spheres of life and experiences help us see how we can best look after everyone. I personally can’t stand the pigeonholing and the way that we’re all siloed — because we’re a collective people and we collectively own everything about ourselves. And that includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.

We’ve got people like Harry Tam, we’ve got kaupapa that we represent, and we’re trying to find the solutions away from kaupapa that have held us back. I guess we are all going to merge together. I’m not insulted by that analogy.

I don’t know how bland and boring some of these other politicians’ lives are, but we live among our community, and we have to listen and learn from those experiences to find tomorrow’s solutions.

You were a real champion in the first set of lockdowns during the pandemic. So how can Te Pāti Māori reach out to those Māori who got lost in the conspiracies and those kinds of thing? That’s quite a challenge, isn’t it?

Yeah. I’m really proud of the way that we front-footed and collectively worked as Māori, whether it was across communities or parties, and put our foot forward to respond to a threat to our whakapapa. And the question on how we look after our whānau who’ve gone down a rabbit hole? They’re our whānau.

We were the only party that didn’t support mandates. And we’ll continue to have our whānau, to be part of the movement, when and if they’re ready. I think there are some people that need to stay caught up in their convictions — and there are some that need to find somewhere to come home to. And we’ll always be that movement no matter what phase they’re in.

How do you reach out to rangatahi, first-time voters? Are they zoning in or zoning out?

I’ve just come from Manawatū, where we had about 2000 who were at the kapa haka for our rangatahi. And when you listen to their kōrero, I think that our rangatahi are extremely engaged, more so than I ever remember being at their age.

By default, we’re the party that can’t afford the flash promotional tools. So social media has been important for us. Our team, our kaimahi, are all under 30. We’re the only party that’s brought on a 21-year-old candidate (Hana-Rāwhiti Maipi-Clarke).

It’s really important that we start to reflect and look like our whānau on the ground. We need to make space so that our rangatahi can claim their political sense, their mana motuhake destination.

Given the kind of polarisation that’s out there, how comfortable are you with a young person as young as Hana standing?

I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with anything to do with parliament. But I also think I’d be more uncomfortable if we didn’t promote our strength, our next generation. I heard Hana the other day say: “I’m not a politician. I’m a kaitiaki.” Those value bases belong inside the House. We must stop being a nation that has a three-year cycle. We need an intergenerational focus.

What success can Te Pāti Māori point to over the last term?

Oh look, a whole suite of successes. For example, our anti-poverty tax, the fact that we highlighted the white-collar crime, the 7-billion-dollar tax evasion, and the GST off food, which others are sort of picking up.

We know where we belong. The fact that we identify and provide solutions for the 50 percent of our whānau who are living off less than $30,000 a year in Aotearoa. I love the fact that we use our small number of MPs to raise big kaupapa and big solutions. We live in an environment where we see the problems — and we see that the gap between the problems and the solutions is widening.

What we’ve also seen, as importantly, is a growing following that’s getting engaged and owning their space on that journey to mana motuhake.

Opposition parties have described the government as the most separatist, divisive, racially charged for years. Is some of that put down to those successes?

What we have are those on the extreme right, such as Act, who are utilising fear to bring about an opposition to the maturing of our nation. And what we see is a reaction to the fact that we have a growing population of younger Māori who are reclaiming our space as tangata whenua. It’s an Indigenous thing that’s going on around the globe.

I think collectively we’re owning our spaces quite comfortably — and we’ve got a little cohort who are being triggered by the fact that we’re growing.

Recently, Rawiri was sitting next to David Seymour and making a comment which looked like it might land him in hot water. Did you guys discuss the penalties he might incur?

When you’re in the House, you use supplementary questions when you think that’s critical. And the supps space is where we don’t often do a lot of planning — where we leave ourselves free, in Rawiri’s words, to surf what’s coming down. And sometimes we don’t even know we’re gonna do a supp until we see where that kōrero is going. That’s the beauty of supps. And we’ve done that a lot in the last three years. It’s been a critical part of our staying organic.

What’s it like when you’re sitting next to somebody that you’re ideologically opposed to?

I’ve been in spaces where I’ve absolutely been opposed to the ideologies that others have had. That’s not new. What’s difficult is that we have a House and a system in Aotearoa where we have allowed certain behaviours and the race-baiting . . . that can harm not just our tangata whenua, but harm our takatāpui and our tangata Pasifika. And that’s something that we need to stop. We need to push for change.

I’ve seen it for the last three years, but it has gotten worse in the last six months for no other reason but votes. For political votes. It’s a tough place . . . Because everything that our tupuna fought and died for is being challenged on a daily basis, just so recklessly. Without any care.

The House needs to be challenged and changed. It’s not fit for us. No one in the modern world would come into that place and feel safe if they weren’t male and pale. That’s just wrong. We’ve seen good colleagues who’ve been destroyed in that place because of the mere fact that their wellbeing, their wairua, is not a primary focus.

Now, can you explain to me why Meka Whaitiri defected from Labour to Te Pāti Māori? I don’t get it, and I’ve never seen a good explanation.

Only Meka can explain. What I do know is that when any of our whānau want to come home, come back to the movement, we’ll always receive them.

The Meka that arrived to us looked really tired. She looked a lot older. The Meka that we see now looks well. I guess that only in her ngākau and her wairua and her whānau can they explain that.

The thing that I felt very disturbed by was the lack of communication between her and that whānau she’d been working with for years, the Māori Labour caucus. There didn’t seem to be an obvious principle at stake. Which makes me wonder, what actually was it? Was it that she didn’t get a position?

Meka has never spoken badly about her colleagues, has never ever said that it was an event, has never disclosed that she was unhappy with any specific thing.

What I saw across the House, though, was varying stages of our whānau looking mokemoke. And I’ve seen that a bit. And I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t know if it was a specific trigger.

Are you comfortable with what happened?

I hope I’m never comfortable with seeing people hurt. I will always have aroha for our whānau that are hurt, and I know at varying times within our growth, we are going to hurt people. I think the most important thing though is to give them the mana and the respect to navigate through that, knowing that we love them.

A policy question now. Labour is promising GST off food and fruit vegetables next year. New Zealand First promises GST off basic food and drink, Te Pāti Māori promises GST off all food.

Yeah, absolutely.

How can you afford that? Because that’s a huge take.

Good question. We’ve got Labour promising GST off some kai. It’s what? $4 extra? Ours was $40 extra a week. And if you were to look at where that would come from, there’s our net-wealth tax, the pursuing of the 17 billion in tax evasion that would give us about $16.4 billion surplus. The “ghost-house” tax . . .

You’ve got a lot of taxes.

Yeah, but the tax that we’re proposing affects positively 98 percent of our population. So we’re only targeting the 2 percent who’ve gotten off rich, who the tax system was designed for, and who own more than 50 percent of the wealth. We can’t have it that they’re getting away with a 9 percent tax, and we’re getting a 20.2. And it’s not rich-envy. We want everyone to be wealthy, but we mustn’t continue to support a tax system that was designed to benefit the rich.

Education, just another quick policy. You want schools to incorporate te reo into 25 percent of the curriculum by 2026, and 50 percent by 2030. Where are all these teachers gonna come from?

We need to continue to invest. It’s just about making sure that we invest and capture those from the kōhanga to the kura, to wharekura, to the whare wānanga. We haven’t had a consolidated approach on how we’re growing it. We want to see investment at both ends.

If we had our own Māori Education Authority, we’d be able to target this from the beginning. What we have now are mainstream models that aren’t fitting and aren’t retaining our talent pool.

Now, Te Tiriti. Act have set a referendum for redefining the principles of the Treaty. And New Zealand First are campaigning to have New Zealand withdraw from the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. How much traction do you think these parties will get?

With us? None. The reality is that we’re having this debate because we’ve got this archaic generation and, to be really horrible about it, archaic politics, where people don’t get that they’re tangata Tiriti, and they’re absolutely threatened by what Te Tiriti can bring to us as a future-focused nation.

And I think that’s the disappointing part because if you look into Te Titiri, it’s got so many solutions for us. It is mana-enhancing. There’s not something being taken away. But because there’s been a generation who have not been taught, who have not understood, who don’t even understand that they have the potential to be tangata Tiriti, that’s where we’re at.

From our perspective, the mana of Te Tiriti is the mana of Aotearoa. That’s why we keep talking about Aotearoa Hou. In fact, from our perspective, our Tiriti hasn’t been honoured enough. And, if you look at our mana motuhake policy, you’ll see that we say that every Waitangi Tribunal recommendation should be endorsed.

One of Te Pāti Māori policies is around appointing a Tiriti o Waitangi Commissioner. How would that work?

Yes, and we also talk about adopting the recommendations of Matike Mai. We never profess to be the be-all and end-all of every solution, but we’re moving towards that whakaaro and that thinking. A Tiriti o Waitangi commissioner would be completely independent, completely resourced, and its role is to hold the Crown to account when it’s breaching Te Tiriti. There’s been a lot of focus on settling, but not a lot of focus on honouring.

Do you think that Te Pāti Māori is more of a movement than a political party?

I think we’re both. You look at Rawiri and me. We’ve both come from the activism world.

When you came into parliament, part of your kaupapa was around seabed mining. Is activism where your heart really is? Is that where your best skills are?

I think so. I’ve learned to adjust to the various atamira (stages) to get to those end goals. But that was certainly one of the biggest catalysts.

How do we improve communications between Māori and Pākehā — and between Māori and everybody else?

I was at a wānanga with some of our high school kids from Porirua. And when I asked how many of them had experienced racism, every one of them put up their hands. And they asked me what they could do.

I told them that we have to keep saying to ourselves, and even say it out loud: “I’m proud to be Māori.” We should have that as our default setting. We have to keep remembering who we are and be proud of that. And convince ourselves that we are the best.

Is there opportunity for Pākehā to consider voting for Te Pāti Māori?

Yeah, absolutely.

And I mean, the relationship with Labour — there’s been some movement, hasn’t there?

Yes. And you’ve gotta remember that three years ago, Labour didn’t want to meet with us or anything. Now we converse all the time.

So you came in on the list, right? Now you’re campaigning for the electorate, Te Tai Hauāuru. That’s a big thing to be a co-leader and possibly representing the entire electorate. Are you feeling perky about that?

It’s a huge challenge. Three years ago, honestly, you could almost see, not gonna say the ridicule, but the haze coming over everyone’s eyes, and hearing them say: “Oh, really? Te Pāti Māori?”

Now, what we’re getting is nothing but huge love and support.


This is a longer version of Moana’s kōrero with Debbie Ngārewa-Packer which aired on September 4 on the award-winning current affairs programme Te Ao with Moana, on Whakaata Māori. It has been edited for length and clarity.

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